Animation Nation: The Important Life Lesson In “Spongebob Squarepants”

It’s a sad time in the animation world. Stephen Hillenburg, creator of Nickelodeon’s popular cartoon Spongebob Squarepants, has died at the age of 57 due to ALS.

Hillenburg, also a marine biology teacher, has impacted the lives of children and adults for years thanks to Spongebob Squarepants. There is something eternally lovable about Spongebob. Even though he could be seen as annoying happy (or, in the words of Ben DeLaCreme, “terminally delightful”), his effervescent view on life is something we all wish we could experience, at least for a little while. I think a lot of us want to see the bright side of life, even when you can’t figure out what the bright side could be. Somehow, Spongebob was able to find the bright side to going to work at what others (and Squidward) might think of as a crummy job, living alone with his snail Gary, and having his olive branches of friendship constantly rebuffed by Squidward.

On the flip side, I think a lot of us probably feel more like Squidward. He’s grumpy about the world and his life. But his grumpiness is actually existential depression. It’s a feeling I’ve started getting the older I get, no matter how much I want to stay in the Spongebob world of happiness. Getting older is tough, but getting older and having your dreams still hover over your head makes it even harder. Thankfully, I’m not like Squidward when it comes to my job–I am doing what I like doing–but I think we all have regrets and things we wished we had pursued harder. For me, it’s learning to play the piano better, or taking karate when I was younger, or learning the play the drums. I worry about being more sociable; I’m an introverted person, so me going out and doing extroverted things is annoying. But it’s what I’d need to do if I want to become “bigger” in the “representation space” (as I call it) of online entertainment journalism and pop culture critique. And since I live in the South, I’d have to travel to get to some of these industry events I’d love to go to. Sometimes I wonder if I was more extroverted, how much farther I might have gotten with my site, my career, and my social life. For others, the regrets might be even more serious than that.

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But being like Squidward all the time isn’t mentally healthy, and while Squidward has every right to have regrets, he can’t really complain since he doesn’t do anything to help himself get to the level he wants to get to. That’s the one lesson we can take from Squidward–no matter how you feel, it’s always important to keep striving forward instead of getting stuck. When you get stuck, that’s the time you have to move. I don’t know if Hillenburg intended for this, but it’s interesting that this is the lesson Spongebob’s character is based on. He doesn’t wallow in self-pity for too long; when he gets down, he figures out a way to solve his problems. He’s not a character who gives up, and that’s something we can all take from.

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It is going to be a sadder, less hilarious place without Hillenburg, but we can be thankful that we’ll always have his humor showcased in the many episodes of Spongebob Squarepants. Even at 30 years old, I’ll still stop and watch Spongebob Squarepants to get a good chuckle and, honestly, to feel like a kid again. Next time I watch an episode, I’ll have to pour out some salty sea water in remembrance.